The children who are being tried under the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) because they attended demonstrations have been pushed aside from the agenda after certain legal amendments and after the campaigns of rights advocators have finished. However, lawyer Seda Akço, working in the field of children rights for many years, thinks that the problem is still going on and that it will even grow further if the justice system for children will not be reformed.
Due to legal amendments enforced in July 2010, children are not prosecuted under the same conditions as adults as it had been practices between 2006 and 2010. At the same time, the Court of Appeals took an important decision regariding a person who attended a demonstration upon the call of an illegal organization without actually being a member of the organization shall be punished like a member of an illegal organization.
According to Akço, the basic problem still persists, which is the question "whether to punish the children for their reactions". She emphasized, "The crucial point is to provide opportunities for the children to express their reactions. Otherwise, students participating in a canteen boycott and issuing a press release are punished as well - of course the severity of the penalty is important, too".
Children are not dangerous but in danger
So how should children who go to the streets to show their reactions be approached?
Akço highlighted that the police that are confronted with the demonstrators first should accept the fact that they can demonstrate and also the idea that children might be among them. Demonstrations are being made illegal. If violence is involved - including children - the police has to consider the children as "being in danger" and they have to act for their protection. They need a plan to take them out of the scene so they do not get harmed.
If they have to be taken into custody, this should not happen at the place of the incident but as far as possible upon request. It is not the duty of the police but of the prosecutor to determine who is guilty or suspicious. If the prosecutor decides to launch an investigation, priority should be given to avoid a restriction of the children's freedom. If there is a possibility for judiciary control, this should be preferred to detention. If a trial is launched, priority should be given to freedom of expression and punishment should only be considered as a last resort.
Akço argued, "I think that all children are facing common problems once an event has entered the field of crime. Children are being discriminated because they are Kurds but this is not specific to them, Romans and homosexuals are being discriminated as well, for instance".
"Article 31 of the TCK has to be amended"
In Akço's opinion, the actual problem is to allocate resources to fulfil the legal obligations of the many applications and administrative regulations.
A pressing problem is Article 31 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) (Minor Status). Akço criticized that judges have no other option but punishment for children who are aware of the legal significance and consequences of the offence.
In fact, the reason that drove the child to the commitment of an offence should be determined and precautionary applications should be imposed to remove that reason. Only if this is considered to be inefficient, the court should decree for punishment.
"If a child commits a theft because he is hungry, it should be prevented from staying hungry. Looking at it from a specific angle, a solution for the children who attend demonstrations would also be a solution of the Kurdish question".
The lawyer stressed that the judiciary will try to find their own solutions as long as the government does not take according steps. Due to a lack of alternatives, this solution means punishing the children, Akço emphasized.
"I don't trust the amendment"
Akço furthermore indicated that the attitude of the police could be changed with an according approach of the administration.
"The release of children in detention was a relief, but we will see what is going to happen once the courts will establish their verdicts. (...) If the Prime Minister will make an announcement similar to the one in 2006 [What needs to be done will be done for women as well as children], detention houses will again be filled up with children. Therefore, I do not trust the amendment". (EÜ/VK)